COLLEGE STATION - Something in your holiday heart will urge you to attempt to forge a long-term relationship with your poinsettia.
But before you repot it and spend time and money trying to encourage it to produce vivid colors again, make it a martyr for your spring garden, suggests a Texas Cooperative Extension horticulturist.
“Unless you are an absolute plant nut, the most economical and reasonable thing to do is to discard it when it starts to look rough around the edges,” said Dr. Don Wilkerson, Extension horticulturist and Earth-Kind advocate.
“And the best way to get rid of a poinsettia is in a sustainable manner by tossing it on a compost pile rather than in the trash. We don’t need to contribute to the endless stream of yard waste that is clogging up urban landfills.”
Wilkerson said poinsettias, which were brought to the U.S. more than 180 years ago, were never intended to be a perennial plant. Perhaps because they are associated with Christmas, people often try to keep the plants alive.
“But the challenge is in getting the plants to reflower. They are photoperiodic which means that they only bloom in the ‘short day’ times of year. If there is any interrupting of the dark cycle, they remain in the vegetative state,” he said.
Though there are no hard numbers for this season yet, poinsettias seem to have been sold at low prices because supply about matched the demand, according to Dr. Charlie Hall, holder of the Ellison Chair in International Floriculture at Texas A&M University.
Hall said there were numerous specials this season – from $1.49 for a 6-inch pot one Friday early in the season to three for $10 on the larger pots as Christmas neared.
But, “there’s nothing more worthless than a poinsettia on Dec. 26,” Hall noted.
That’s where the compost pile enters.
“Toss poinsettias on a compost pile, dirt and all,” Wilkerson said. “They have such a narrow carbon-to-nitrogen ratio that the plants will decompose rapidly, and the potting medium will also contribute to a richer compost material. The wider the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, the longer it will take to break down”
Generally, the green or fleshy items are higher in nitrogen whereas the dried items are more carbon.
So, go ahead to the compost pile with the poinsettias and the grapefruit, apples, pears and other seasonal fruit that linger past being edible.
But other Christmas wastes - such as gift wrap - may not be as suitable for composting, Wilkerson said, because they are higher in carbon and thus take longer to degrade in the soil. Large pieces such as evergreen boughs or pinecones can be chipped into smaller pieces and used for mulch on a flower bed.